Utility Board explores payment options

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 12, 2003

Utility customers in the City of Andalusia may have the opportunity in the near future to pay their utility fees via more convenient means, such as by telephone or perhaps even through the Internet.

This possibility was discussed by the City of Andalusia Utilities Board during its regular meeting Tuesday evening.

Stephen Morris of Alatax was present at the meeting to discuss the convenience other benefits of electronic payment processing with Utilities Board Superintendent Earl Johnson

noting that the board will likely work more with Alatax in the near future about bringing the extra options to Andalusia.

Alatax is the entity which collects taxes from the city and Morris said the company also collects taxes for about 247 cities overall in Alabama, including Opp.

Morris, who is a part owner in the company, said that about nine months ago, a company in Nashville approached Alatax, a company actively involved in what it termed cashless commerce processing, using credit and debit cards and electronic checks or "point of sale" transactions.

Another process he said the company informed him about was interactive voice response (IVR), or pay by phone. This involves a customer using any touch-tone phone and using a toll-free number and putting in their account number or last four digits of their social security number to ensure that the transaction is very secure.

The system then informs the customer of information about their account balance and other pertinent information and provides the customer different payment options.

He said payments though the Internet have also become increasingly popular due to factors such as the convenience aspect.

"People are able to see their bill (on the Internet) and their due date and time of payment," said Morris. "They can click on how they want to pay for their transaction. So (with electronic payment processing) you can pay through debit card, credit card and electronic check. Basically the way you pay is point of sale, the Internet and by phone."

He said he mainly wanted to come to the meeting to offer the various services to the board, noting that several utility departments in the state had gone online, including those in Enterprise, Calera and Clanton.

Morris brought brochures to hand out to the board members which included possible prices, and emphasized that providing customers with a good variety of payment options is a very valuable service.

"The more ways you give your people to pay their bills, they are going to choose one of those ways," said Morris. "There is not a happy utility customer who walks in just eager to pay their bill, but if you make it easier on them, you will be amazed how much your revenue stream speeds up (and the reduction in rebilling and collection costs).

According to brochure that was handed out, benefits of such services in terms of operations include the increased speed of transactions and more efficient management of human resources.

Customer service benefits would include greater convenience, avoidance of late-payment penalties, more accurate records of payments and a wider diversity of options.

Financial performance benefits would include increased cash flow, lower operating costs and reduction in rebilling and collection costs.

Johnson stressed that although the new payment options might be available to the city in the near future that customers would not necessarily have to select those options, noting they could still pay via the more traditional methods of making an office visit to pay or to simply send their payment through the mail.

"I think this is the area we want to be going in," said Johnson. "It will provide all of those options that we've talked about providing to our customers and citizens and being able to customize the bills with the situation."